tv Scientists Testify on Investigating COVID-19 Origins CSPAN July 19, 2021 10:02am-11:44am EDT
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watch the senate live on c-span2 and the house live on c-span. >> scientists testify on efforts to investigate the origin of covid-19. they discussed the lack of cooperation from china, misinformation about the virus and what a proper investigation into the origins would look like. chairman: good morning. welcome. i guess i don't have to remind people about the importance of the topic that we are discussing today, the origins of covid-19. for the past year and half the science committee and congress have been focused on optimizing response to the pandemic and making sure the full power of of the countries scientific apparatus is engaged in that
battle. now that the vaccines are succeeding in crushing the caseload of covid-19, it is time to turn our attention to how the international catastrophe started and what could be done to lessen the future outbreaks. we are convening this hearing to look at the underpinnings of the investigation. there is one profoundly correct reason to pursue this investigation, to help protect public health and the national security in the future. if we do not learn everything we can about how this disease got started, we will be less safe moving forward. as many of you know, and i spent most of my career in science before the last decade in congress, i would like to thank our witnesses for their testimony. in science, if you see an interesting data set, you look at the logically possible
hypotheses that could explain the data, and then you look at the likelihood of each with a given set of assumptions and then you ask what data or measurements are needed to confirm or refute each hypothesis. armed with that new information, including the uncertainties, you enter the engineering phase of the problem, using the information to make the systems work better. that is one reason why i feel so fortunate to have an engineer as my partner on this subcommittee. in politics it is very different often. if you see something interesting the first question is often not what is true, but what can you convince people is true, sort of like a lawyer convincing a jury. instead set of facts, we look at cherry picked facts to support your political position. that often leads to bad policy that, in the case of covid-19, has killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
that is why i am proud of the way that the science committee conducts its business by letting facts and logic and science lead the way. unfortunately we do not have the full set of facts. right now americans and senior government officials have suspicions about china's role and there's no disputing that government has withheld information. chinese scientists were quick to make sure that the genome sequence was available to the public back in january of 2020. this is the master key that we needed to start work on that vaccine and those scientists are heroes for publishing it. they took this step in spite of the fact chinese government and not with its blessing. let the record show that members of congress understand that the lack of transparency from the chinese government about health
emergencies of international consequence is a serious concern. it is a threat to our nation and it predates the covid-19 crisis and it is not entirely restricted to china. at the same time, china's lack of transparency is distinct from the body of the data around the origins of covid-19, and the absence of data is not itself evidence of a lab leak or something more sinister. the witnesses will help us set expectations and understand what evidence is and what other ingredients comprise a credible inquiry on disease origins today. patience may be one of those ingredients. we all remember the sars virus of 2003. it took most of 15 years to identify the original source of that virus. it was ultimately found in a bat cave near the original outbreak. the president has asked this committee to report back in late august on any new information that could bring us closer to
the conclusion about the origins of covid-19. this is a constructive step, but i would caution that there is a good chance that we still will not have all the answers after that report comes back. like so many important topics in science, the deliberate endeavor of establishing origins of covid is likely nowhere near as simple as we would like it to be. if epidemiology were easy, we would have the answer. if the intelligence community were in possession of a smoking gun about origins, i believe we would've heard about it. today i intend to establish some expectations of federal and global leaders in their efforts to investigate the origins of covid-19 and future diseases. we will not tolerate equivocation from public officials, where the facts are not clear enough to support the conclusion, do not offer one just to humor the news media. i ask all members to take care
to remember the distinction between the theories of the journalists or blogger and the observations of experienced science professionals with first-hand knowledge of the virus. the science committee has a long history of playing the long game and transcending political noise. our witnesses will help steer the origins conversations to the high road where scientistic objectivity and data are paramount. we have the four corners of outbreak investigative representatives at today's panel. two the four -- to the four of you, too many of your peers have experienced threats for speaking out publicly about this hot topic come and that is really appalling. your participation today is a service to the public.
thank you again. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you for holding the hearing today. the principles for investigating the origins of covid-19, before i begin i would like to take a moment to commend chairman foster for his willingness to hold this first official house committee related to the origins of the epidemic. i am hopeful that this hearing can serve as an example of how congress can work together to move forward on investigating the origins of what happened last year. this is not a partisan issue, and i think it is something that we definitely all should work together on. it is also an opportunity for us to begin looking into the principles and standards by which an effective investigation into the origins of covid-19 should be conducted. perhaps more importantly, to reflect on some of the lessons that we have learned over the past 18 months about scientific
communication, the importance of fair and open public discourse about scientific hypotheses and the impact that media censorship and a possible lack of scientific integrity has had on efforts thus far to investigate the origins of this pandemic. since the early days of covid-19, discussion regarding its origins have been hampered by the politicization of this topic. reputable scientists have at critical times presented opinions unfortunately as if they were scientific fact and sometimes avoidable conflict of interests have called into question the independence of efforts that have been undertaken to examine the origins of covid-19, including unfortunately some of those of the world health organization. these shortcomings have made it more difficult to have open discourse about this issue.
also, equally troubling have been the actions of media, big tech and the fact checkers which have compounded this difficulty. during the onset of the pandemic, some media outlets latched onto a preordained narrative about the origins, dismissing competing theories as false and even xenophobic conspiracy theories. social media companies then censored information about the covid origins, labeling posts as misinformation despite evidence. the unfortunate effect of these actions was to shut down legitimate scientific discourse, which i think is important to everyone on this committee. those actions made it difficult for scientists and the public to challenge that had been held out by only a few, even where the science supported alternative hypotheses.
fear of retaliation that some -- led some scientists to self censure and remain silent instead of searching publicly for the truth, which i think is our goal as scientists. to me, censorship in any form is troubling, but even the more so when it prevents scientific inquiry. we are seeking to understand the origins of covid-19, and that matter is not so we can point fingers or assign blame to a specific country, but more importantly that we can better prevent future outbreaks come -- outbreaks. that is certainly my intention today, as we consider these principles that should inform how we investigate disease outbreaks in the future, and that includes acknowledging the shortcomings that have complicated the inquiries last year. certainly we have made a lot of progress. many scientists scholars and , journalists are now publicly calling for renewed investigation. it is my hope that we can move
forward in a more open discourse and a productive dialogue. although i agree with the chairman that we may never know the origin of covid-19, that certainly does not mean that investigation into the origins will not bear fruit. to the contrary, i think the facts and evidence that are uncovered during such an investigation will help us prepare for future pandemics. i am looking very much forward today to learn more about that investigation should look for as well as reflecting on the principles and standards that should form a framework of the investigations in the future. thank you for holding the hearing today and for the witnesses appearing before us to discuss this issue. i yield back the balance of my time. >> we are pleased to have mr. lucas with us today. the chair now recognizes the ranking member for an opening
statement. >> thank you for holding the hearing and thank you to the witnesses for appearing. while this committee has held a handful of hearings over the last 18 months examining the role of the scientific community in combating covid-19, i would be remiss that today is the first official effort and it -- in the u.s. house of representatives to explore the origins of this pandemic. i hope we can use this as the important first step towards full congressional inquiry into the origins of covid-19. the last 18 months, the u.s. has been battling this pandemic and over 600,000 american lives have been claimed by the virus. this is unlike anything we have seen in the united states since the spanish flu. here we are, and we just now are discussing the principles of investigating the origins of the virus. this conversation is overdue, and over the past several
months, there been comments made that this committee is investigating the origins, and the subcommittee hearing can start to determine how this a break started, but this is not an investigation. to get answers on the origins, congress needs to get involved. this committee and others need to come together in a bipartisan matter in take this inquiry seriously. understanding the origins of covid-19 is not about scoring political points or detracting from the ongoing efforts to fight the virus. it is about mitigate -- mitigating future pandemics. we should not have a preferred outbreak origin theory because we prefer one narrative over one another -- over another and we should not bury our heads in the sand and refused to investigate the organs because we are concerned about what might happen if we get answers we
don't like. the job of science is not to prop up one argument or another. the job is to determine the facts and it is the policy makers'job to make these decisions. we cannot do that without a better understanding of the outbreak. i urge the leadership to allow a transparent investigation of the origins. the chinese coming's party has not been forthcoming or trustworthy in the sharing the information about the origins of the virus. i hope that we can work together on this committee to support american scientists and researchers at federal agencies and national labs who have been working tirelessly to continue to learn more about where this virus came from and to eradicate it for good. we also need to work together to
improve trust in science. during the covid-19 panic, -- pandemic, the information has not been handled well. it has been presented in ways that is misleading in polarizing. that has creamy -- created tremendous problems. the cdc reports that roughly 40% of adults over 18 still remain unvaccinated. the only way covid-19 will stop spreading in the united states and around the world is if vaccination rates increase and h erd immunity is achieved. we need to ensure the public has reason to trust this information. for more than a year people were told there was only one possible explanation, and that any other theories were dangerous and overblown. now there is acknowledgment that we do not have conclusive evidence for or against any specific origin theory.
that creates mistrust. communicating science during a political pandemic can be a matter of life or death. we need to do so hotly and accurately. we cannot treat the assumptions of scientists and officials as established fact if their claims are not supported by evidence. to have a credible investigation think forward, all of the element information and theories us be considered fairly, and the process -- process must be transparent. we may never know the true origins of the virus, but we owe it to the american people and the rest of the world to give it our best shot at investigating where it came from to better prepare for pandemics to come. i would like to thank for their participation today. chairman: i should say if you
ever get tired of politics, he may have a good career waiting for you as a scientist. if there are any members who wish to submit additional opening statements, your statements will be added to the record at this point. i would like to introduce our witnesses, our first witness is the professor in medicine and a professor of microbiology at stanford university. he was an army pioneer in the modern study of the human indigenous micro by m and he currently serves on the standing committee of infectious diseases and health threats at the u.s. national galleries. then dr. stanley perlman is a professor at the university of iowa. his current efforts are focused on coronavirus genesis,
including sars and mers and covid-19. his lab has developed several models used for studying vaccines and antiviral therapies. he and his colleagues provided a model useful for studying mers and similar approaches have been used to develop several mouse models for covid-19. our third witness is dr. price, chief medical officer at denver health and a professor at the university of colorado school of medicine. his research focuses on health care and methods to detect emerging microbial resistant infections.
dar --our final witness is dr. suzanne murray. she is a board-certified doctor at the biology institute and serves as both program director of the global health program and as chief wildlife that are jerry and medical officer -- veterinarian medical officer. dr. murray's work focuses on pathogen detection and advanced diagnostics, capacity building and infectious disease research. as our witnesses should know, you will each have five minutes
to provide your testimony. your written testimony will be included in the record for the hearing. when you have completed your spoken testimony, we will begin with questions. each member will have five minutes for questions. >> i am grateful for the opportunity to join you today. i am a professor of medicine and microbiology at stanford. over the past several decades, the rate, distribution and diversity of recognized emerging infections has accelerated, especially the animal associated irises paid among the many reasons, the intrusion of humans into natural habitats of animals as well as urbanization.
in response, scientists have doubled down to understand these viruses, creating both benefits and risks. soon after disease first appeared in wuhan, china, the causative agent was identified. the closest known relatives were found in bats in southern china. the key question became how, when and where did sars-cov-2 first encounter an infected human? there are two major hypotheses, first a natural spillover in which the virus jumped directly from a bat or indirectly from another animal to a human. second, a laboratory associated mechanism. both hypotheses involve humans but suggest different opportunities for risk reduction going forward. what is the evidence in support of these hypotheses? first, despite much analysis and
discussion, the sequence of sars-cov-2 tells us only so much . the problem is that the ancestors of this virus are missing, the most closely related known virus is not that closely related. well, sars-cov-2 has not been found in nature and had not been reported from a laboratory prior to 2020. where does this lead? we have only circumstantial evidence. in support of a natural spillover, the fact that nearly all previous topics have all been animal viruses or believed to have had a natural origin rated second, in this diversity of corunna viruses in nature, the possibility that sars-cov-2 is out there, but we simply have not found it. third, extensive wildlife trade and the risks it creates, and fourth, the fact that natural spillovers happen much more often than we had thought.
in support of the laboratory associated origin, first, geography, the closest known virus relatives have been found within 1000 miles from wuhan, while the laboratory was one of the largest collections of bat samples in the world is located in will hand where disease first emerged. second, the risky work at the laboratories. third, the fact that levitt torrey accents haven't much more often than we had thought -- that laboratory accidents happen much more often than we thought. again, all of this is just circumstantial. neither hypothesis can be ruled in or out, both are possible. the goals of a outbreak investigation are to provide clarity about the circumstances and factors that contributed to the event and definitive answers
are often not achieved nor is it necessary for an investigation to yield important benefits. some of the elements of a credible investigation concern process, such as objectivity, transparency, expertise, independence and responsible management of conflict of interests. other elements concern data such as archived animal samples and derivative data, archived clinical samples and derivative data and multiple kinds of lab information. the veracity of samples and data must be assured. i will close with some observations and suggested next steps. it is unfortunate that the orton issue has become grossly politicized. many scientists are hesitant about addressing this issue because of fear that comments will be misinterpreted, and a
lot this undermines the credibility of scientists. however, there are signs of progress, including proposals for roles to be played by national academies of science under the oversight of the authorities granted by political leadership. meanwhile, effective governance is still a work in progress rate i applaud your efforts and urge you to articulate a plan now for an effective investigation of this pandemic and of pandemics that will inevitably follow. thank you. chairman: thank you. next is dr. perlman. you are still needed. -- -- muted. >> thank you for the invitation to testify before you today about this important topic.
i run a lab at the university by way focused on corunna's. i am pleased to join this panel. there are two issues to consider in this question, the first is based on the actual origin of the virus and the second is based on determining how the virus enters human populations. at the beginning it was possibly by some that the virus was engineered in the lab, however this is not a viable possibility in my opinion because one would not know how to design a virus like this from scratch. next, whether a naturally derived virus could been manipulated in a lab. certain characteristics have been considered as evidence, but in general one would need to correct the identify and guess which one to manipulate it.
another question is whether naturally derived coronavirus could've been passaged in sales in labor day so it adapted to growth in any type of cell. this virus would have had to have been present in the laboratory and then been growing in cell culture, and most of these viruses do not grow well in cell culture. the general experience is that only some viruses can be grown in these cells and adapt to the new environment, and most of these will lose disease potential when passaged in self -- cell culture. this virus has not been found in nature, but viruses that are somewhat to this virus have been found in bats, and the second
question is how the virus actually enters human populations. the possibilities that have been discussed is that the virus is transported to wuhan by an infected human or wildlife or it was released from a lab that had the virus. the latter possibility has been raised because wuhan is the home to several virology laboratories . in support of the first possibility, there is evidence that wildlife susceptible to this infection were in fact traded in wuhan. this question of whether release from a lab leak is harder to address. if the virus was brought into a lab by someone working with relative wildlife and the virus infected either that person or someone else in the lab, that person could in theory than infect others in the community. therefore since that possibility cannot be ruled out, it must be investigated.
but the who and the u.s. cdc, experts in the long history of investigations, and both institutions are natural candidates for working with these students, and it is evident from the pandemic that it is necessary to obtain as many samples as possible at the early stage of the pandemic from a broad group of wild, companion and farmed animals, as well as humans with unexplained respiratory disease to have the best chance or perhaps the only chance to determine how the virus cross species. covid-19 has it -- infected so many that it is impossible virtually to get samples now from the present populations. in addition to surveillance both locally and internationally, we need to have risk assessment associated with this otherwise we're just cataloguing viruses.
all of these spillover events have occurred to date outside the u.s., so just the risk of a pandemic like covid-19 occurring again, so we need to know as much as possible about viruses in bats and other populations throughout the world. it should be noted that while much of this sounds theoretical, we know that there are murders like karen devices throughout asia and africa, and this does not spread officially between people, however we learned in 2019 that even though sars-cov-2 not transmit readily between people, a fairly close relative does. similarly, a mers like coronavirus could potentially cause a pandemic, like the sars-cov-2, such a virus would post a grave threat to the human population because we lack immunity to this virus.
with this, i look forward to answering any questions that you have. chairman: thank you. now dr. price, now recognized for five minutes. dr. price: i am a practicing infectious disease physician with experience and expertise in outbreak management on have served as a consultant to public health authorities on control of emergent infections and severe acute respiratory syndrome's. i am an executive director for a special path listens -- pathogens research center. i am a professor of medicine at
the university of colorado school of medicine. i am honored to be here today to speak with you about the principles for investigating infectious diseases outbreaks. when a foot to the public health occurs, epidemiologists and other experts investigate the problem so they can identify sources and risk factors come implement prevention and control measures and communicate with stake holders. there is a well described defined process for performing a complete investigation into the origins of an outbreak. the process requires significant collaboration between public health officials, lab personnel, clinicians and other stakeholders in areas affected by the outbreak. the review begins with the initial cases but should include a time period preceding the current problem to determine whether earlier cases in existed
, and if so the occurrence rates. a high level of data transparency is required. in the united states, there are data collection preservation standards in place at hospitals to ensure they can track emerging infectious diseases. the center for medicare and medicaid services requires a health care facility maintain a program to prevent recognized and control to the extent possible the onset and spread of infection within a facility including surveillance and investigation to prevent the spread of infection. it also requires that hospitals comply with the reportable
diseases requirements of the public health authority. to comply, agencies such as the joint commission survey infrastructure and written plans for detecting and controlling infections. authorities may also monitor and required data to look for concerning trends. as part of standard work, in train -- trend is identified by a program, maintaining the description of the outbreak will inform initial hypotheses for explaining the potential cause, source and mode of the causative agents. a related step to confirm diagnoses is the need to save specimens for longer than conventional holding periods so they are available for further analysis. both clinical and lab data together are essential for tracing an outbreak.
these data should inform the steps such as environmental sampling, and when it comes to investigating the spread of an infectious disease, hospitals and local health department will take the lead. the cdc provides surveillance data and clinical guidance on the management of emerging infectious diseases but they provide consultation and lab assistants to health care facilities and apartments that are working to solve outbreaks and investigate adverse advents -- events. hospitals will reach out to their local -- is identified and that health department intern may extend a formal invitation to the cdc for help leading an
on-site team. public health will help gather information through case reviews observations and possibly sampling. in the case of a multistate outbreak, the cdc court awaits -- chordates the investigation. the who will investigate a brakes and invited by the government but is more often looked to as an important source for global surveillance information. thank you for this opportunity to testify before you today. chairman: thank you. our final witness, dr. murray will now be recognized for five minutes. >> thank you so much.
my name is dr. suzanne murray. recognizing that 75% of these diseases come from the wildlife population, our program was built in eliza's experts in wildlife, public health, conservation biology and epic the mag to respond -- epidemiology. recognizing that these are linked, we use this approach to investigate emerging infectious diseases. determining the origins of a virus is difficult, and ongoing investigation and identification of new viruses can improve this process. with a sample collection we can work precisely to determine how
the virus in question is related to variants. we learned a great deal of information from data collection from free ranging species including but not limited to bats, primates and rodents, and expanding this data is the most critical opportunity we have to better understand the origins of this virus. over the past decade, we have worked with more than 30 countries and discovered over 1000 new mammalian viruses. analysis has determined that they represent less than 1% of existing viruses. to hopefully understand the evolution of these viruses, continuing sampling is needed and the best way to accomplishin g this -- underscores the need
to develop a multi-disarray -- multidisciplinary community to work together to analyze data collection. some of this work is already underway between multiple agents and organizations. additional coordination could further improve the ability to react to the next pandemic. orchestrating this kind of cordon is a -- coronation is not easy. managing this is a huge undertaking especially when no one organization is charged with this. principles for transparency and data access range from community to community based upon several factors, including but not limited to shared trust on how
data will be utilized. we have learned a great deal from the current pandemic and other epidemics about what is working well as wares areas we would like to see improved. we have developed inviolable -- invaluable partnerships with many countries to build upon a foundational work in the areas of viral discovery, lab particle development and implementation as well as rapid response units and data sharing. over the past decade, our work has shifted to investigating and better understanding the drivers of these emergence. we get -- modeling, data sharing and understanding the role of human behaviors, cultural norms as well as outreach. further we are recognizing that science is most impactful when it draws upon these multidisciplinary assets while
being contractual eyes -- contextualized. for instance, some of the most critical drivers of disease emergence include human behaviors and education that can affect human behaviors. recently the national museum of history and the smithsonian occupational health program and the office of communication in external affairs, along with outside partners, are developing a more comprehensive approach to pandemic prevention by incorporating previously underutilized techniques.
not only will this more quickly inform scientists and pharma companies but will ensure the public is engaged in informed along the way. knowledge is power, and knowledge is absolutely essential to global health. thank you for inviting me to participate today and i look for to answering any questions you might have. chairman: thank you. at this point we will begin our first round of questions. before i get started, i have a
statement from the american society for microbiology to be entered into the hearing record. without objection, it will be so ordered. thank you. dr. price, it strikes me that two of the most significant words in your testimony seem to be upon invitation. it seems like the extensive set of data that you would like to have both before and during and even after an outbreak are things where you will need exceptional local cooperation, and one of the lessons that i take away from this and probably other pandemics is that there is a big incentive for institutions to cover up, and this happens at the family level, at the business level, the local government, state, nation, even at the level of systems of
government. so is there an alternative here to doing our best to try to get commitment in advance to spill out exactly when it is necessary here, because my fear is that the best intended voluntary data sharing agreements will not survive the first contact with the enemy. could you say as little bit about what the thinking of the scientific community is on that? >> to establish ground rules before this happens is important, so 3d level, whatever it may be, but at the end of the date the host country needs to be collaborative, so forcing it upon them, we have to do something where it is an agreed-upon standard and make sure that we are addressing concerns that they may have
about negative impact and minimizing that for the sake of getting the data and for the sake of understanding the science. chairman: are there international efforts to get data repositories, for example, that will be immediately accessible ahead of time so you don't have to negotiate that, at least as one way around part of this? >> there are some collaborations, but more ad hoc. one well-established venue we have for sharing information is the very low tech platform called from med -- promed. basically it is a bunch of front-line doctors, epidemiologists, just emailing about things they are saying that seem odd. sometimes it ends up being
something. for instance, the first notification the world had of middle east respiratory syndrome was through promed. this was four days before the who announced to the world the sars-cov-2 or what later became known as sars-cov-2, it had been already released through promed. there are platforms like that that allow early communication. the problem is i think sometimes governments do get involved in maybe cycling communications. chairman: dr. murray, you held out some optimism, sort of flooding the zone with technology, potentially that automatically report what is the measure in the field so that when someone is admitted with a
wheeled -- weird viral infection, just to pick a relevant example, so that this automatically gets reported to the relevant database. is that something where potentially the u.s. congress could put some money into, and get that deployed nationally and internationally? >> also i think that in addition to what you're saying, a lot of the partners that we work with in different countries, we have to establish the ground rules ahead of time and also incentive five hour partners -- incentivize are partners. i think that is part of it. i think there are some other projects to build platforms upon which a lot of the data of these viruses will be available to
everyone. i think there are some movements towards that. i think that is one of our strengths, using the field sites , especially those within the hotspots, the areas in which the next disease is most lightly to occur. using the field technology to identify in the field and having that relationships are it can be uploaded and shared quickly, we have a lot of that existing in kenya, so that is a really great relationship with them, whereby that sharing can happen rapidly. i think another thing we might want to look at it as if something is going well, how do we replicate that broadly and quickly. chairman: i'm now over my time allotment. >> thank you very much to our
witnesses. i have a question for -- in the early days of the pandemic, there was a letter that was published in the lancet and nature medicine in which the theory that anything other than a natural origin theory for the coronavirus should be considered implausible. i will read an excerpt read the letter said "the rapid sharing of data on this outbreak is now being threatened by rumors and misinformation. we stand together to condemn a theories suggesting that covid-19 does not have a natural origin. conspiracy theories create prejudice. " after the publication of that letter, about a month after the appearance of the first case in
the u.s., after that letter, media and social media companies would refer back to that letter in having their fact checkers label as untrue anyone that tried to express the theory about anything other than a natural origin so it became this self reinforcing cycle. my question, at the time that letter was published, would you consider that a statement of scientific fact or a statement of scientific consistence -- consistence -- consensus or a statement of opinion? >> i share your concern about statements that do not reflect what we know and don't know. many people have opinions. i think it is important that people make clear and they express a point of view, it either is an opinion or based upon something more concrete. i agree that letter did have a chilling effect on certain
elements of public discussion. i understand where many of those writer weres coming from, i think they were operating from a perspective of understanding past outbreaks, largely occurring through largely spillover mechanisms. i think it was a to say this one may will be as well. but every time we make these statements, i think to your point, we have to be clear about the basis on which we make them and where there is remaining uncertainty. and what we need to do to either disprove the counter argument or prove our own. i worry and found it disheartening last year that there was much too little of that. >> how do we prevent this from
occurring in the future? obviously we are in a period of polarization in our society. science has been politicized. how do we prevent this from happening next time? >> that is outside my pay grade, but there was a larger cultural problem with the tenor of discussion, and as you will recall, there were others outside the scientific community making defiant statements that made it difficult for any of us to insert our positions into this public discourse. answers come from multiple directions. we need to remember what the scientific process is about, who and how it is undertaken, and
simply better inform our public as well about how to judge statements that are being made in the questions they should be asking all of us. >> thank you. you did not touch on it a lot in your testimony. i was interested, when you are talking about the wuhan institute and the possibility of eight lab leak from that institution, some of the practices for studied viruses that you considered risky. can you talk more about that? >> sure. i think the rest of us, the rest of the panelists here, and i share a lot of similar thinking about this. if there is an origin or argument to be made about the possibility of a laboratory
origin, i think we have to consider the possibility that there was unrecognized presence of this virus either in the laboratory to the samples that were collected or an encounter out in the field, and that the infection perhaps was simply not recognized. i am concerned about sort of the unregulated lack of proper discussion about how to go about examining diversity in nature. i fully support the statements today, but when we collect a lot of sequences, we have to ask what is the relevance? the way in which some of this is determined is by scientific experimental means either by train to grow the sequence or by
train to re-create it or study a piece of it. what i think concerns me is that we have not yet had a proper discussion about where there may be risks in some of these experiments, not the majority, but some of these have not been properly addressed and that we need to confront and discuss this more openly. i will call at a certain set of experiments, and i view these as particulate risky. in this work they started with a natural isolate, a bat coronavirus, which a good friend of mine had already studied and declared to be a virus poised for human emergence. it came out of a bat in wuhan. their approach for studying novel sequences was to take a piece of those genomes and swap
it into this virus. it then resurrected a few of those viruses and drew them in a lab. so now we are talking about properties that we cannot predict well. that was the purpose of the experiment. those are experience -- extremist that concerned me. i am not saying they launched the pandemic by any means, but is the kind of work that we need to think much more clearly and more deliberately about before we undertake it. >> thank you. chairman: i gave you a little extra time because of the interest in that question. just trying to understand what the definition of dangerous
research is and how we deal with that internationally. >> thank you to the panelists, thank you and to the panelists. i feel compelled to defend something one of my best friends in life, the chairman had to say early in his introduction and that is concerning the scientific method and the ability whether it's a lawyer or politician, our responsibility is to make decisions based on the best information we have available to us at the time. and it may not be perfect and
the scientific method at you go through the six factors that you consider as part of the scientific method, but it takes time obviously to understand the origin of things, to understand this virus but decisions had to be made and just for the record i will read something president trump said at the time in late january of 2020. china has been working very hard to contain the coronavirus. the united states greatly appreciates their efforts and transparently. it will all work out well in particular on behalf of the american people, i want to thank president xi jinping. he goes on for the next two months thanking china for their tremendous effort with respect to the coronavirus. when i look at the points that you make as to the scientific method, you say verifiable and reproducible.
transparent representative. experts. independent and without conflicts of interest. and so there are a number of things within that list of components as to how to prove a point where you introduce people. and when you introduce people, you start losing some of the facts that my chairman and my physicist friend dr. foster finds so concrete. so just to defend lawyers and people who have to make decisions, i want to say it's not all that cut and dry. now i want to turn my attention to a coloradan and i want to thank her for being part of our panel today. i want to ask dr. price, we have now seen the delta variant over all the other types of viruses and variations of viruses and it
makes up three quarters of the cases we now see in our state. from your point of view, what steps can the international public health authorities take to prevent new strains like the delta variant from emerging? >> i think we are starting that now with vaccination. the trick is to get vaccinated to keep these new strains from emerging. the second step and my virology colleagues are already doing is keeping track of the evolution of this virus and we need to tweak the vaccine or create a booster and we are constantly surveilling very proactively to be able to design a booster and new vaccine to overcome it. >> so in your testimony you talked about there has to be a level of trust among the
scientific community. among epidemiologists, virologists. so how does one build that trust so that you can work with dr. perlman or dr. murray and to know that you are getting straight information? >> you have to respect that when a host country or when another lab invites you in to investigate and help them solve the problem that it is their data that you are working with and the way to get access to it is to be invited and agree on the objectives. and you need to have that collaboration. both philosophically and practically. so philosophically it's important for the host country in my experience to be viewed as the lead for solving the problem. they want to solve a problem
that they are viewed as creating. so you are there in the capacity of a consultant. not to parachute in and take data and publish on behalf of the united states. so you have to remember just basic human consideration. you are reviewing charts in another country. they may be in a different language, they may have different medical norms. you need their people alongside of you to do this together collaboratively. stay focused on the scientific question you wish to answer, do not make conclusions on incomplete data. resist the urge to make conclusions and communicate often with their authorities. and make sure you are not exploiting the host. whether it's an undeveloped country where this happens or a developed country that you are not trying to get something on
behalf of your own country or for your own institution or academic career. >> my time is expired. i thank you and i will yield back to the chair. i just felt compelled to defend lawyers and politicians. >> thank you. i will recognize the ranking member who is neither a lawyer nor scientist and a tremendous contributor to this community. >> being a farmer by trade and my university training is in economics. if i wanted to put you to sleep we would discuss the inelasticity of the demand for food. since the early days of the covid-19 pandemic, china has not been transparent with the rest
of the world. or shared reliable data that could inform on the possible origins. so thinking about the last exchange between my colleague in one of your fellow witnesses, how do we move forward in investigating the origins of covid-19 without cooperation from china and how does congress and federal agencies work together to do this. i will give you the big question. >> i have to turn back to my co-panelist, dr. price and suggest that we are in dramatic agreement on a number of the points that she made. but i will make a distinction between the importance of relationships among scientists and the kinds of relationships that exist between governments. and here i will again reflect
much of the sentiment by dr. price. there have been very good working relationships between scientists in the united states and those in china at these very institutes. i have been on trips to those places and met many of those scientists and greatly respect them. i think in fact they have much to share. if we could create the right circumstances under which they feel allowed and empowered to do so. it's very complicated task and i don't mean to suggest that any of this is easy. it is not. but it doesn't mean that we shouldn't try. i will point out that our national academy of sciences and the chinese academy of sciences held a series of meetings last summer where we held very fruitful discussions. they did not involve the governments of our countries and i think there was some useful progress made.
i'm may be an idealist but if we can build these kinds of relationships among scientists, we can start there and find ways in which to take into account the interests of our governments and other larger institutions. >> in your written testimony you disagree with the argument that further clarity about the origins of covid-19 is not needed. we are a conduit to the american people, the folks who ultimately suffer or benefit from our actions. can you explain why it is so important that we investigate the origins of covid-19 and what an investigation how it would enable future pandemic preparedness and response? >> i would say there are at least four benefits to an effort to understand the origins. the first is a point that has been made already.
that anything we learn will help us devote resources and design strategies to both anticipate and prevent the next pandemic. that's first and foremost. second, we will learn how better to investigate out breaks. that's a point that is already been made by my fellow panelists. third, we may deflect further recriminations and perhaps some finger-pointing by the gaining of greater clarity. and then fourth, if there is further evidence that perhaps accidents occurred in the conduct of science, then i think we will be forced to have conversations and further discussions beyond that which we have already had in this country that look more carefully about where there is risk that perhaps deserves special attention. >> you discuss the predominant covid-19 origin theories.
how do we better communicate scientific and factual evidence so that we continue to investigate the origins of covid-19? how do we convince the american public of the merits of what we need to do? >> the first place would be something that dr. price has already mentioned. the great importance of transparency and all the information upon which we based our statements. that has to come from all quarters of the globe, not just china, not just the united states but every other place where there is useful information about the virus, the early clinical events and everything else we have to understand about this ecosystem. so data transparency is where we start and that should be available to the world's public as well. >> i would yield back noting that the general public doesn't always understand what goes on
behind those lab doors and we need to make sure they understand it is to their benefit and the future of everyone. yield back. >> i agree. we will now recognize one of our most valued members of the investigation subcommittee. >> i am a doctor and politician. in a prior life was chief medical officer for sacramento county. did a lot of public health work. just from a medical and epidemiologic perspective, it is really important for us to take a look backwards and get a sense of what's happened. the novel coronavirus didn't have a name and there were
multiple hearings on this. one of the first recommendations we made in early january 2019 or 2020 was that we had to use every effort and resource to get the best scientists into the hot zone to not just understand what was going on and how the virus was transmitted but also to help the chinese in terms of containment. obviously that didn't happen. china's response was different and i think we will look back and see a missed opportunity that slowed down our response. that said, the scientists in china, there was a hero in china who released a gene sequence fairly early and probably did save tens of thousands of lives. certainly allowed us to develop deep testing fairly early on and
ultimately allowed moderna and pfizer to start working on vaccines as well. so i'm not disparaging any of the chinese scientists because i think the scientific community would have wanted to work in a cooperative collaborative way. it's when the politicians get involved in this case the chinese government that i think things went awry. i do think just from purely scientific perspective it is important for us to understand the origins so we can better prepare ourselves to address and minimize the next pandemic and be prepared for that. one of the witnesses talked about i think we do have to go through and get a better understanding of the risks that are out there so we can be better prepared for that. one area that i think is
incredibly important for us to think about is our own bio security. because there are bad actors in the world and for folks watching a virus build the -- bring the world to its knees, we spent a lot of time the subcommittee on nonproliferation, we think about nuclear threats. we have just seen a biological threat bring us to our knees. as we prepare for the next naturally occurring pathogen, i think we all have to build in systems to address and think about man-made pathogens. whether intentionally or unintentionally that could impact us. i know we were able to get $1.7 billion to build out our infrastructure for gene sequencing of this virus that's
helping us right now with the pandemic. as we build out these bio surveillance tools at the global level as we try to put in these institutional norms for lab standards, what is appropriate genetic research, we are teaching our high school students how to do gene editing. there is real risks here. some things we should be thinking about as congress to prevent a man-made pathogen. >> those are all really important good questions. one response would be that there are multiple approaches that will be needed, no one of which will be sufficient. part of this is going to be a question about whether we think
there are discrete, probably very small to find parts of this science that deserves special attention. in other words, might there be a redline. might there be a place past which we simply ought not to deliberately go. i think there are and i think those are vanishingly few and that we have to be very careful in perhaps drawing a line if we do so so we don't impair or impede the rest of the critical science upon which we depend. so these are really tough problems. i would like to see for example our government sponsoring further international discussion about whether there are norms of this sort, how we go about defining them, who needs to be at the table and perhaps not just scientists but social scientists. but that's a start.
and this is as much about people as it is about rules and we are going to have to have a better understanding of where we all stand on this and a mechanism for ongoing discussion as unforeseen problems arise. >> great. thank you. maybe that's a topic for the future. >> i agree. and the analogy between nuclear nonproliferation and the dangers of bio weapons and everything from homebrew bio weapons to nationstates. without objection i would like to enter into the record of report from the nuclear threat initiative they issued last fall entitled preventing the next global biological catastrophe. it recommended among other things stronger mechanisms at the united nations for determining the source of a biological threat regardless of
origin. i would like to enter that into the record. next is representative gonzales for five minutes. >> thank you chairman foster for holding this timely hearing today and our distinguished witnesses for joining us. in your testimony, you labeled the work being performed at the wuhan lab as being unusually risky. i want to focus on that specifically. in 2016, the lab reportedly experimented on a live that coronavirus -- bat coronavirus. the lab's director gave a presentation with slides that exposed some of her unmasked colleagues working with bats in their bare hands. one of the labs top contractors who has coincidentally been charged with leading the lancet and who investigations made comments that researchers in the
wuhan lab -- i recognize you will not offer a personal opinion on this hypothesis, but would you agree this is a troubling fact pattern that warrants investigation? >> my response would be to say we as an international community of scientists have some important issues to address some of which you just alluded to. i think some of the work that has been described deserves special attention. i mention some of the experiments that i think were unusually risky and it's not just my opinion. it's the opinion of other well-known coronavirus experts in fact. but this is work that they had permission to do at least by their own governments. so there are many people here that need to be in these
discussions to decide how do we go about viewing and assessing risk and how are we going to manage it going forward. this is not just a problem of one place. >> this screams for more global coordination and pressure frankly. given -- professional ties to the wuhan lab, doesn't give you pause that an investigation completed by the who and lancet can be considered credible? because i struggle with that to be honest. >> i have stated this in various places. i was troubled by the terms of reference with which they began their investigation, the exclusion of certain hypotheses just because. and the skewed treatment of just one and not another.
i think that was a problem. >> in a 2020 op-ed, you applauded chinese efforts to share relevant covid-19 information rapidly and responsibly. we now know the ccp implemented a gag order to stop the sharing of any information related to the pandemic. they have also silenced their own scientists, deleted databases and blamed the united states military for the outbreak. given how the last year and half has unfolded, do you still stand by those comments? >> i think the point you make are very well taken. a lot of those comments were made at a time when the world was a little different. talked about that 2020 lancet paper and it did have a big impact. it was at a time when the world was really divided and we thought this was all man-made. now everything has become more
nuanced. i think it's appropriate to be more nuanced. i certainly would have thought about those nuances back then. at the time that's what we were thinking. the sars epidemic took the chinese government -- was even more opaque than and it took several months for that to be admitted to. so this felt like it was more rapidly done. information was being spread. there was no question in the very beginning there was some cover-up. i have friends in china that were telling me they thought things should have been released more quickly and this was in the first days of january. and the problems only got worse because the things you are describing are what is going to make it so difficult to determine where the virus came from. not having information available.
>> if the chinese won't permit researchers to conduct fieldwork and only offer limited access to granular lab records and data, how can we carry out an investigation that is credible and immune to ccp investigations? >> i think it is something that has to change if we are going to figure this out. >> if it's possible to add to that, can i make a comment? one of the things i would like to underline is if we are trying to create the entire puzzle for china to understand the entire picture and if we think about what we can control and we do have access to, if we have a jigsaw puzzle with 100 pieces and we only have one or two currently available, it's hard to understand everything. the more that we can develop that robust data set that's independent perhaps from the
wildlife surveillance that's perhaps independent of governments, it might give us a chance to have a better understanding and that might be something we can more easily control. >> thank you for giving me a few extra seconds. >> if our witnesses and members are interested i think we will continue this informal procedure we have of after we have gaveled the hearing closed, we will turn off the live feed and have the sort of private discussions we have typically after in person hearings as well which are often very productive and useful. i will now recognize representative buyer for five minutes. >> thank you for holding this really fascinating. let me begin that i am concerned about the low vaccination rates in republican-led states.
continuing to place our economic and societal recovery at risk. tennessee's abandonment of any pandemic response is the latest example of failed leadership. while we are focused on the origins which should be very helpful in trying to understand how to prevent a future lab leak , we have to remember there have been more covid deaths in 2021 than in all of 20/20. so we need to also be focused on the variance and if we don't get serious about covid, the next variance of concern are likely to be homegrown. and they are preventable in light of our access to vaccines. we are not going to know much about these variants if we don't have good surveillance. from your perspective on the current status of u.s. covid surveillance, what's going well and what should we think about for the future?
>> to be honest i think our covid surveillance was bunch more robust a few years ago. we knew that even three or four years ago an epidemic was likely on its way and we knew that it was likely to be an influenza virus or coronavirus, that it was likely to come from bats or primates. we knew a lot and we were pretty actively involved in a number of different countries doing that surveillance and creating the database from which all of our scientists and pharma companies need to access information. for a variety of reasons, i think in part due to changes in funding structures and changing and priorities, that surveillance isn't as robust right now as it was and from my perspective i think it's time that we lean in because that
continuous sampling is what's most critical one other thing i will note is if we are trying to understand how the viruses might mutate in the future, it's very helpful to look at past collections as well. even historical collections from a museum to look at the coronavirus of 100 years ago, 50 years ago, where they are now. we are obviously still doing, there's number of different groups during surveillance. it's a strange time to be slowing down. >> i was fascinated by your discussion about how in the wuhan lab they had taken previously characterized coronavirus poised for human emergence and inserting the all-important like protein from
the novel virus. what was the possible gain from introducing the spike protein into these viruses? >> the purpose was to understand the very diversity been hearing about and trying to understand what parts of this diversity may prove to be a true threat to humans. i would argue an approach that we ought to step back and discuss more is to take the part of the virus we think is most likely responsible for interaction with human cells and study it in some way shape or fashion. the way they chose to do it was to swap it into another virus whose properties they had just characterized antivirus they were able to resurrect and propagate. so these were the chimeric viruses they created and they literally did not know what was going to happen when they did that. their purpose was to see if this is starting virus had become
even more well adapted to human cells and more to grow. i didn't know what the answer would be and i would say that was a pretty dicey throat of the dice that they were undertaking there. >> you have talked about the covid commission planning groupl for a novel entity that will routinely investigate outbreaks that are happening all the time is how to do this right. i do like some of these proposals. >> thank you very much. mr. chair, i yield back. >> we will recognize representative waltz. >> thank you. i want to state my opinion and i think the vast majority of the american people would agree it is a little insane.
it is kind of nuts 18 months after this outbreak, millions of lives lost, millions of dollars spent, businesses ruined, kids are falling further behind in school more than they already were, that this is the first hearing the majority has hosted on the origins of the virus. i think the total lack of urgency to get to the bottom of this -- again, a year and a half after the outbreak, just to be candid, is a bit outrageous and i hope this is the first of many. this is a very complicated issue and i hope this is the first of many to get to the bottom of it. but i certainly applaud, you know, let's get started in having the hearing today. if dr. relman, in your testimony we all agree the investigation
has not looked like that. key factors or conflict of interest and objectivity. you also stated, and i want to make sure i understand, neither hypothesis should be rolled out. lab leak or natural correct? they are both viable? >> that is correct. >> thank you. and i would certainly agree. i am just trying to wrap my mind around what i think the world's biggest coincidence is. the epicenter of this virus happened in a city, the only city in all of china that is conducting dangerous research on this virus, 1000 miles away from natural origin. cities larger than manhattan and in a lab the state department in 2018 shared concerns for its safety. that brings me over to dr.
pearlman. it was mentioned but i think it is worth mentioning again that in march 2020 you signed a letter that suggested covid-19 does not have natural origin. the entire world was looking to the scientific community and that really set the tone and it is no surprise we have the media and big tech banning discussion of anything but natural origins. do you still stand by that? that any discussion is a conspiracy theory? the dr. relman, who says it is a viable hypothesis that it is not natural, is a conspiracy theorist? >> remember, the statement i said a few minutes ago, the statement was based on the notion that this was constructed from scratch. that was what the letter was about. i do not think it was defined well enough in that letter but
that is what the discussion was. it wasn't -- >> if it was constructed from scratch, you would tell a conspiracy theory? >> i don't know. conspiracy theory has a lot of pejorative terms. it is not one uses lightly. i think the idea at the time was this was being convoluted so that i whole bunch of possibilities were put into the idea that this virus was made from the beginning. >> what did that letter have the effect of doing? shutting off a very viable lines of investigation into whether this came from that lab, which we are funding with u.s. taxpayer dollars directly or indirectly. we cannot stop the last pandemic -- the last three of which came
from china -- and here we are a year and a half later just trying to figure this out. then you signed the letter which has been since resigned and recused from because peter is receiving funding and his livelihood is dependent on the type of research we are asking him to investigate. i think yes the chinese cover-up has been at horror but but just as inexcusable is the scientific community who has not been objective, who has shut of lines of research, whose livelihoods depend on funding pertaining to that research, and could be compromised. i think we as the committee need to take a hard look at those backgrounds and if there are conflicts of interest, as dr. relman pointed out, before we move forward. i thank you and i yield. >> thank you. we will recognize representative
stemsbruy. if she will activate her video? >> thank you, mr. chairman. i appreciate the opportunity to ask some questions. >> the first is about lab safety and biosafety standards. your thoughts about how we can ensure the highest standards are upheld not only in the united states but proliferated internationally. >> thank you for the question.
i think, from my perspective, safety and security are about both guidelines, rules, regulations and people. the people part is as important as any of the others. the finest rules and regulations if not properly followed or believed in simply do not serve the degree we need. i agree that this is a collective responsibility. we in the united states have further soul-searching to do, but building upon good efforts that have started already. i would like to see more attention to this and more attention to the idea of how we can provide positive incentives for people to believe this is important. >> thank you. >> i would like to add to that,
is that ok? >> yes. >> in the u.s., we would have oversite and i suppose, both of the doctors can correct me, but the cdc would oversee that. the joint commission has 20,000 hospitals in the united states but there are also 54 hospitals in china that are accredited by the jci. the centers for medicare and medicaid services also regulate laboratory testing and there is the ability for international laboratories seeking clarification to do so. in addition to what dr. relman said if there is a will to have
some regulatory oversight more so at a global level using existing structures we have. >> thank you both and thank you mr. chairman. my second question is about the kinds of research we are talking about, including gain of function research. dr. relman, you argued in your testimony we should consider whether or not there are certain life-sciences research that is so risky perhaps it should not be undertaken. and i wanted to understand more about gain of function research and how this research is used in microbiology, how common it is in vaccine development and what we can understand as to how it might apply to what we are discussing here today. >> thank you. i am not a big fan of the term gain of function because it is confusing and used in confusing ways. i would prefer to talk about
risky research, research that is unusually risky and for several reasons. to me, the two properties that matter most that we need to be concerned about our property of something able to do harm, so pathogens, and property of transmission. anything that has those properties, something that can do harm and transmit easily, is something we need to pay attention to. and to make it very simple, i would argue that we should not go about deliberately, and intentionally creating something that has those properties that does not exist in nature without a very, very thorough and well-informed discussion. that is the kind of thing that gets out of control quickly and if it has not happened yet, it will. i am very concerned about that work. >> thank you, dr. relman. with that, i yield back. thank you. >> >> thank you.
>> thank you, chairman foster, for the opportunity to participate in this official hearing. thank you to all the witnesses for your testimony and sharing your extensive research and experience with us on such a crucial topic today. dr. relman, in your testimony you have a further clarity of the pandemic and say it is no longer needed. i think that is absurd and i was happy to see you would disagree also. following up on past questions, can you elaborate on the potential consequences of not investigating the origin of the virus? >> sure and to clarify i think the viewpoint i was seeking to portray was one where a number of people have said, this seems
so difficult. it seems so unlikely we are going to gain greater clarity for the reasons discussed this morning that perhaps the effort is not worth it. that the effort which will come with a lot of political difficulty and complication, perhaps should not be undertaken. i disagree. i do think for a whole number of reasons there are likelihoods of greater insight into the origins of the pandemic in part because science is such an international undertaking and there are lots of useful information that come from all corners of the globe on how this pandemic began. but i do think it is critical we pursue this and the reason is, in part, if we do nothing further, one of these two hypotheses, in my view, continues to be so difficult for
some of us scientists to discuss. the idea that one of us could have caused an accident, that one of us made an error, that it will not be pursued with sufficient rigor and attention. that is my concern should we simply drop the matter. >> dr. relman, i fully agree. we owe it to the world to understand and we never let something like this happen again if we can come up with the way it happened -- announcer: you have been listening to the hearing investigation on the origins of covid. would take you live to the white house state dining room. >> six months since my administration began. we take a look at the economy, where we were six months ago, what we achieved since then, and what i believe -- i believe where we are headed. before i took oe